Shelby Bower and Robin Cates never made it onto the first season of the “Wedding Cake Championships” in 2018, having been chosen as alternates for the Food Network program. Bower had finished second in her only previous TV appearance on the “Halloween Wars.”
The pair would not be denied the second time around.
Cates and Bower – the mother-daughter team behind Shelby Elizabeth Cakes, an award-winning boutique cake studio in Richmond – took the cake (and $25,000 grand prize) during the Wedding Cake Championships’ second season, which concluded June 24. The pair beat out five other two-person teams to become the winner.
“It was pretty surreal,” Bower said. “It just felt amazing to hear our names come out of their mouths.”
While viewers may have just seen the finished product, from the cake to the dialogue and the preparation, the competition was fierce and more than met the eye – and not just because of the other competitors. Inside the competition vineyard in Palos Verdes, California, Bower said the temperature reached as high as 102 degrees, complete with sweltering humidity that mirrored that in Texas.
“People were surprised that we had to make that many cakes, especially outside,” Bower said. “We were right by the ocean as well, so there was all that humidity to deal with, too, which is bad for everything we’re doing. Everything just melts or gets sticky real fast, which can impact the very foundation of the cake. It was messing with all our fillings and things.”
The need to combat those issues brought about other challenges.
“We have to bake everything outside in that tent, so we had to use a flash cooler a lot, and everyone else was using it, too,” Bower said. “I was worried somebody might mess with my cake since they were side by side.”
Not to mention that when hosts Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski said they had five hours to bake their creation, it was a line in the sand.
“The five hours was real. We didn’t get to take any breaks to eat, use the restroom, eat lunch or anything that didn’t count as part of the five hours,” Bower said.
To both save time and counter the effects of the conditions, Bower said the “torting” process was the most difficult to navigate during the show. Torting a cake means cutting a layer of cake horizontally to split it into two layers in order to thin the layers of cake so more layers of filling can be added.
Later, Bower said she utilized a baking process called damming, which keeps filling from leaking out during the heat of the competition. But they did it with a slightly different twist.
“Other teams were using icing as a dam, I actually used more cake. I baked extra cake and cut it into thin slices to use it as a dam so the other cakes weren’t resting on additional icing for support,” she said.
Now that the competition is done, Bower and Cates will go back to work at Shelby Elizabeth Cakes – with an eye toward the future.
“I want to be able to offer some online classes, and it’s nice to have this title, because I think more people will want to take them,” said Bower, who now is in Milan teaching at the International Cake Exploration Societé Convention and Show. “Especially since I was a finalist on ‘Halloween Wars,’ it’s nice to have a (Food Network) competition that I actually won. It’ll help people recognize our name and our brand.”
Cates and Bower both said “Wedding Cake Championships” was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“We’ve had so much fun,” Cates said before the show’s finale. “I’ve done some things I never thought I would do. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.”
Added Bower: “We had so much fun getting to know the other contestants and the judges. I’m just feeling really happy and blessed to have such a fun job.”
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